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Overview & Game Introduction
I was an avid Warhammer 40K player when I was in high school in the 1980s but I have to say that the “gateway game” for me when it came to miniatures games was definitely Crossbows and Catapults. The basic premise of this game is that there are two factions (the Vikings and the Barbarians) that are waging war on each other. In this two-player game, each player assumes the role of “commander” of one side of the conflict. The players have to defend their tower while simultaneously attacking the opponent with siege weapons.
What You Get
The basic introductory set of Crossbows and Catapults included the following game components:
Caroms: Each side comes armed with a ten plastic caroms (red for Vikings, blue for Barbarians). Caroms are shot out of the siege engines and represent the warriors for each side. Each side has one “king” carom with special abilities described later.
Crossbows: Crossbows are used to fire caroms along the ground. Each side is armed with one crossbow.
Catapults: Catapults are used to launch caroms in the air. Each side is armed with one catapult.
Castle Cards: Each side has a cardboard card approximately one foot square. This card depicts a castle courtyard surrounded by a moat with a drawbridge. In the middle of the card is a secret treasure; at the beginning of the game each player places his or her tower on top of the secret treasure to conceal it.
Towers: Each side has a plastic tower that stands about six inches high. This is the focal point of each side’s castle.
Blocks: Each side received 12 blocks that are set up on the castle card any way the players want at the start of the game. The blocks are used to defend your tower and you attack your enemy’s blocks with your caroms.
Warriors: Each side has five plastic warriors that are used as markers for spies and to mark the location of the king carom.
Flags: Each side has five stand-up plastic flags. Four are used to mark the boundaries of your castle grounds and the fifth goes at the top of your tower.
This game is intended to be played on the floor in an area six feet long by five feet wide. Each player puts his/her castle card in the center of either end of the six-foot long area with the drawbridge facing the other player. The rectangular area extending from the front edge of the castle card to the sides of the five-foot wide area and behind are the boundaries of each player’s castle grounds. A flag is placed on each of the four corners of the castle grounds. Each player places their tower on top of the secret treasure printed on the castle card and then place the fifth flag at the top of the tower. Players now construct a wall on the castle card out of the blocks to protect the tower.
Players now take turns firing caroms at one another. Each player fires one carom per turn and chooses whether to use their crossbow or their catapult. Caroms being shot for the first time must be shot from within your own castle grounds. If a carom lands in the area not taken up by the opposing player’s castle grounds that carom remains in that spot and may be launched from that spot on the next turn.
If a carom lands within your opponent’s castle grounds in any location other than the courtyard or drawbridge it is captured by your opponent and becomes a prisoner. Prisoners may be placed inside the tower of the capturing player (which help greatly as they weight down the tower and make it harder to knock over).
If a carom lands on your opponent’s drawbridge it stays there and may be shot from that location the next turn. If a carom lands on the courtyard portion of your opponent’s castle card it is replaced with a plastic warrior figure and the carom is returned to the player that fired it. This warrior figure is now a “spy.”
If you hit one of your opponent’s caroms outside of his/her castle grounds with one of your caroms then you may take the carom you hit as a prisoner. The only exception to this are the two king caroms. The kings may capture non-king caroms but only a king may capture another king as a prisoner. Even if an opposing non-king carom inadvertently strikes a king carom the non-king carom is still taken prisoner.
If you somehow knock your opponent’s flag from on top of his/her tower that opponent returns the carom that you used to knock over the flag to you as well as one prisoner (if any exist). The flag is then immediately placed back at the top of the tower.
A player can win a game of Crossbows and Catapults in one of four ways:
1. Topple your opponent’s tower.
2. Capture all of your opponent’s caroms as prisoners.
3. Have one of your caroms touch your opponent’s secret treasure.
4. Have four spies in your enemy’s courtyard.
While experienced miniatures gamers will certainly not be attracted by the relative simplicity of this game when compared to games like Warhammer 40K or Warmachine this game, as I mentioned earlier, is a great gateway game for getting kids interested in miniatures games.
The fact that this game is played on the floor is innovative and fun but does require enough space to do so. I would suggest playing this game on a carpeted floor with relatively low-pile carpet. Shag would make the crossbows almost useless and firing the caroms across a smooth tiled floor would make the game relatively easy and also have a high propensity towards denting your baseboards.
The free-form nature of this game should appeal to most children. Whereas most games are more rigid in their structure, this game opens itself up to customizations and encourages imagination. Other obstacles can be placed in the “no man’s land” area and liberties can be taken with the dimensions of the game, as well. I won’t even go into the multitude of ways that Lego could be used to create fun and imaginative customizations to this game.
This game is at its essence a game of area control and is a good precursor to games with strategic elements. The game also teaches rudimentary concepts of physics. The siege weapons use rubber bands to achieve the tension required to launch the caroms and they have several different notches onto which the rubber bands can be attached so players will need to learn what it means to adjust their tension.
Parents of particularly young children should be cautious with this game. While the caroms are smooth and rounded they do have a significant heft to them and the whole point of the game is to launch them through the air at your opponent. In short, be there for when your kids decide to start throwing them at each other’s heads instead of the plastic bricks and towers.
The variety of victory conditions also enable this game to be handicapped well. For example, adults playing against children may want to even the playing field by saying that the child wins if he/she meets any of the victory conditions but the adult can only win if all four are met.
I would highly suggest this as a great starter game for getting kids to think outside of the box when it came to games. Adults may get a kick out of this game at first but those looking for a robust game of strategy should probably look elsewhere.
Note: this review only covers the components of the base set of Crossbows and Catapults. There were a variety of expansions for this game produced which I will cover in a separate review.
I loved this game as a kid - and recently found my old set. It was fun to read your review; I completely agree it is a great gateway game. I play with the pieces with my 2 year old all the time. Currently it is more "Smash the castle" - but over time I am sure that will change...
Thanks for the review.
I agree with these gentlemen. This is a great gateway game for the younger audience. I fondly remember the hours i spent playing this game. Hopefully soon I will be able to pull it out and play with my kiddos.